Imani’s original bean fritters bring nearly 20-year family business to Southside

SOUTH BANK – Imani Muhammad will remember your name and order when you walk into Imani’s original bean fritters on 75th Street.

Chances are something like Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys, or Mac Demarco is playing on the speakers. But most of all, Mohamed promises that “everyone who walks through that door will feel special,” she said.

For nearly 20 years, Muhammad has sold his signature bean fritters, sweetened with cane sugar and flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg, at his local grocery store. Now, she has her first store at 2423 E. 75th St., where she can greet customers who help keep her signature dish alive. She works with her daughter and two young people she’s known since childhood, who have both helped expand her horizons.

She said Muhammad had created a legacy and “food for the soul” for her children. Food can also be healthy and a little sweet, she said.

“We talk about soul food and people think it’s a specific thing, but soul food to me is love,” Mohammad said. “Whatever it is, someone took the time to make it. That’s what we do here. We cook for the soul.”

credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
Owner Imani Muhammad poses for photos at Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore on Oct. 10. 25th, 2022.
credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
On October 10, Chef Jihad Muhammad prepares to wrap pies at Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore. 25th, 2022.

“We can make and manufacture our own products”

Imani’s Original Bean Pies date back to 2005 in the kitchen of the West Englewood Family Day Care Center.

Mohammad homeschooled her children while running a daycare, she said. In a class about Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad taught her children about the historical importance of navy beans.

“We learned how [the bean] gets its name from the U.S. Army, and [about] It’s good for health,” Mohammad said. “I also want to teach why we eat so much bean soup, and its biblical background. ”

Most of the teaching is combined with cooking lessons so the kids “can have fun with it,” Mohammad said.

credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
Chef Ibrahim Muhammad prepares navy beans at Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore on Oct. 10. 25th, 2022.

They made navy bean soup, salads and pies together, Mohammad said. The pie was a bit rough, she said, but it had potential.

“The pie was fine, but it had some whole beans because we used a hand mixer,” Mohammad said. “Every now and then, you swallow a bean or two.”

Despite some fumbling, Mohammad’s husband and parents at the daycare agreed that the pie was delicious, Mohammad said.

“My husband said we could do business with pies,” Mohammad said. “I was skeptical, but it wasn’t long before I made more money for the fundraiser and they did a great job. People kept coming back to me asking if there was more. I realized this business could benefit our young people Showing that we can make and manufacture our own products.”

Mohammad has been selling her pies in the store since 2007, she said.

Mohammed traded in her hand mixer and began making as many as 300 pies a day in collaborative spaces like Chicago Kitchen, she said.

The first pie baked by Muhammad and her children was a primitive bean pie with eggs, milk, butter, spices and no toppings, she said.

At the store, Mohammad added blueberries, apples, peaches and vegan bean fritters, she said. She says her customer favorite, cream cheese bean fritters, started with her kids and the kids in her daycare — like most of her meals.

“At the daycare, I came up with the idea of ​​not serving birthday cakes anymore,” Mohammad said. “It was brutal but we decided to make lovely mixed fruit. The problem is we always eat mixed fruit and it gets boring. After the project they asked us if we could have bean pie for our next birthday. My sister told me to use cream cheese The recipe. It was a hit. They garnished it with fruit.”

credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
Various bean pies wait to be packed at Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore on Oct. 10. 25th, 2022.

Mohammad started selling her pies at a small health store in the South Side. Soon, she said, she expanded into grocery stores like Fairplay Foods, Pete’s Market, Whole Foods and the now-defunct Ultra Foods after friends and friends of friends spread the word. You can even find Imani’s Original Bean Pies in New York and Philadelphia, she says.

Muhammad’s only mistake was “putting the cart before the horse and starting a business without a plan,” she says.

Mohammad had never worked in distribution before starting the pie business, she said. She said she didn’t know what the UPC was and that her business label was a homemade printout.

Mohammed said that Mohammed’s children, nieces and nephews would deliver the pies to the grocery store and put them on the shelves, much to the confusion of managers. Every moment, she says, is a learning experience.

“It’s been a pleasant journey,” Mohammad said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of learning curve and a lot of mistakes. But we’re still here.”

credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
Chef Ibrahim Muhammad prepares navy beans at Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore on Oct. 10. 25th, 2022.

Years in the industry have given Mohamed greater control over her business, she said.

She said Mohammad withdrew her pies from big box retailers and focused on local health food markets, where customers were getting their pies quickly. She saw products for sale at the Go Green Community Fresh Market, a short walk from her home in Englewood.

Mohammed met with an adviser more than a year ago to discuss the balance sheet, she said. When he asked her what her next dream was, she said she knew it was opening a shop.

Muhammad opened Imani’s Original Bean Pies this summer. She said the store was dedicated to her mother, Mama T, who died in May.

Mohammad started her business with the help of her children and young people at the nursery. Their enthusiasm has driven her to sell her pies citywide, she said. As she got older, they helped her hand out pies and help bake them.

She said it was only fitting that Mohammad continued the tradition of putting young people at the heart of the business in her new store.

credit: Colin Boyle/Chicago Neighborhood Club
A portrait of owner Imani Muhammad’s mother hangs on the wall of Imani’s Original Bean Pies and Fine Foods, Inc. on the South Shore on Oct. 10. 25th, 2022.

Muhammad’s daughter Hadiyah is in charge of the cash register and finances. Jihad Muhammad and Ibrahim Muhammad, two men she has known since childhood, cook and bake. She said Jihad Muhammad made the soup.

The journey, she says, has always been about creating and building a legacy for future generations — and creating something sweet along the way.

“I want my pie to be remembered as a delicious, delightful homemade dessert, like the way my grandmothers and grandfathers used to make it,” Mohammed said. “We make homemade desserts that you can’t put on the table. A few weeks. Around here, we’ll have dessert first.”

The store is open daily from 11am to 5pm.

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